2 Pianos 4 Hands at Stages: Life at Their Fingertips

When Jeffrey Rockwell was young, he decided he wanted to play the piano and nothing would deter him. "I badgered my parents," he recalls, and finally they caved. "When I was nine I started classical lessons."

He continued with these lessons through his early 20s. When he was still a teenager, he thought about becoming a classical pianist, but his mother told him she just couldn't see how he could sit still for the long hours of practice required to reach the top. He agreed with her assessment, but still played.

In time, Rockwell entered Juilliard in the acting/drama division, but kept up with his piano lessons on the side. Told he had to make a choice by Juilliard, he set aside the piano and went on after graduation to get work as an actor, often in musicals. But as it so happened, as musicals got more and more expensive to produce, they got smaller and Rockwell found himself increasingly at the piano onstage and then entering the action from the keyboard as an actor.

All that playing came in handy. Next week, Rockwell, along with actor/director Tom Frey, will be onstage in 2 Pianos 4 Hands at Stages Repertory Theatre, playing as well as he can -- which has to be, as it turns out according to Frey, "exceptionally well" in the comic play bracketed by Bach's D Minor Concerto. According to Frey, only 22 actors have ever been able to pull off either one of these roles in the play written in the late '90s.

It's the story through the years of two aspiring classical pianists, Ted and Richard, who have to come to terms with the fact that though they are very good, they are not the greatest. They not only play themselves at age four, but their piano teachers, parents and fellow geeks.

One of the most produced plays ever in Canada, the two-hour 2 Pianos 4 Hands won the 1996 Dora Award for Outstanding Production in Toronto.

Frey, who has been doing the show off and on for 12 years and played both parts, played piano early on, hit a wall and gave it up for year. "I didn't play piano in front of anybody for about ten years," he says. He had no problem acting in front of other people, however. Then, he took it back up and to good effect. He expects to clock in his 750th performance during the Houston run.

2 Pianos 4 Hands Opens Friday, September 7, and runs through October 28. Wednesdays and Thursdays 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays 8 p.m. and Sundays 3 p.m. at Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. For information, call 713-527-0123 or visit the theater's Web site.

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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